Student Legal Services helps every step of the way

Disa DiBuono, Melissa Williams, and Antoinette Mayfield

Intern Disa DiBuono, attorney Melissa Williams and paralegal Antoinette Mayfield of Student Legal Services. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Are you up against a lousy landlord or struggling with a legal problem and don’t know where to turn?

Attorney Melissa Williams and her team at Student Legal Services may be able to help.

Student Legal Services takes about four or five cases a day. Every UIC student — involved in a case or not — pays for its legal guidance through student fees.

“There are so many people who, a legal problem can come along and it can knock them off their square,” Williams said.

The legal service, established in the 1980s at the request of the students, is bound by the rules of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege. Information is not shared with the university unless requested by the client.

“We go all the way from brief service and referral to actual representation in court,” she said.

What was once a law office run by a single attorney, without the assistance of law clerks, now handles 800 to 1,000 cases a year, Williams said.

Since she took the position in February, Williams has expanded the office and now uses more than 20 law clerks, many from law schools in the area.

“I have more of a legal clinic view of the position,” she said.

“We encourage students to call the office even if they’re not sure whether we’ll be able to take a case. If we can’t, we refer them to someone who can.”

Questions about housing seem to be the most common concern for students, especially problems with unethical landlords, Williams said.

One case involved a student who was blamed for bringing bedbugs into an apartment after the carpeting was pulled up and the insects emerged from the floor.

Williams and her team helped the student break the lease and move into a more livable home, then referred the student to John Marshall Law School because fair housing rights had been violated.

“If you are not being treated fairly, do not be ashamed or afraid — contact SLS because we do represent students in court if and when necessary,” she said.

“I’ve worked in different areas before coming to UIC and that helps, because students come with every type of issue,” said Williams, who graduated from John Marshall Law School in 2003.

She offered a few tips for those students facing legal issues related to housing:

• Never sign a lease without viewing a unit first.

• Take pictures when you move in and out.

• Never pay in cash.

• Always get everything in writing.

“The things we see on ‘Law and Order’ where everything gets resolved in an episode — that’s not going to happen,” she said. “It’s a process and it takes time.”

Legal representation is available to current students who pay the student services fee and have a legal matter for which the office provides service.

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